A Comprehensive Guide To Choosing Vintage Jewelry

A Comprehensive Guide To Choosing Vintage Jewelry
Posted on July 15th

The word vintage comes from the Old French word vendange and refers to wine. Today, we use the word vintage to describe jewelry made in the past; just like a fine wine, vintage jewelry ages beautifully and gracefully.

Vintage and vintage-inspired jewelry are eloquent pieces with designs that have stood the test of time. Understanding which pieces of jewelry are vintage can be overwhelming, but our comprehensive guide will break everything down for you. We will cover how to identify and appraise vintage jewelry, where to look for it and how to choose a piece, and some of our best tips for choosing vintage jewelry.

Why buy vintage jewelry?

What makes these items so special? Well, vintage jewelry carries a lot of value. Some vintage pieces have been passed down from generation to generation, carrying its family’s history.

Not only do these pieces symbolize a connection between generations, they also symbolize the beauty of aging. As we age, we grow wiser and become more knowledgeable; we have stories and lessons to share.

Our jewelry, too, gains value as it ages alongside us. Vintage jewelry reminds your loved ones of your legacy even after you’re gone.

A jewelry piece’s past can still be exciting even if it hasn’t been passed down from family members. When you purchase a piece of vintage jewelry, you also purchase a piece of history. You can identify which era the piece was likely made in and speculate on who might have worn it.

Unlike the mass produced jewelry today, lots of vintage jewelry was handcrafted. You’ll notice the difference in craftsmanship in the details. The individualized design that goes into each piece of vintage jewelry is another unique characteristic that makes it so valuable.

You can still find handcrafted jewelry today, and there are many reasons to buy recently handcrafted jewelry, but the handcrafted vintage jewelry of the past carries nostalgic value. Not only is vintage jewelry uniquely designed and handcrafted, it’s also a more sustainable way to accessorize.

Mining practices take a toll on the planet but you can make a difference by investing in vintage jewelry which requires no mining or new materials.

Shopping for vintage jewelry can also be a fun hobby. Some collectors spend significant time researching and looking for specific pieces while some people just have fun browsing the jewelry at antique stores and markets.

HOW TO IDENTIFY vintage jewelry

Buying vintage jewelry can get expensive — understanding the characteristics of true vintage jewelry will ensure the price you pay matches the value of the piece. There are four characteristics of vintage jewelry to look for while you’re shopping: the design style, techniques, materials used, and stamps.

These characteristics vary based on the era they were produced in. We’ll go over each of the significant eras of jewelry style and the characteristics to look for while identifying pieces of jewelry. 

THE VICTORIAN ERA (1830 - 1900)

This era can actually be divided into three different periods; The romantic, grand, and aesthetic periods.

The romantic period symbolizes the Queen’s marriage with Prince Albert. Thus, symbols of love and romance were common. Also common was the symbol of the snake, which symbolized eternal love and wisdom. Colorful gems such as amethysts, garnets, topaz, chrysoberyl, emeralds, and turquoise were abundant. 

The passing of Prince Albert sparked the practice of remembrance jewelry which marks the grand period of this era. The country followed Queen Victoria in mourning by wearing solemn jewelry garnished with jet, vulcanite, and onyx.  

During the aesthetic period at the end of the Victorian Era, more cheerful designs became popular including those of animal heads, knots, and bows. The recognizable diamond solitaire style became popular during this period, which features a diamond embedded to a band using small claws.

Common materials: Gold, colourless stones, silver, jet, ivory, pearls, opals, emeralds, and amethysts. 

Common techniques: Hand-carved conch shell cameos, typically carved by Italian artisans. 

What To Look for: Keepsake lockets, heart and flower motifs, snakes, bow brooches, and jet black brooches.

THE EDWARDIAN ERA (1901 - 1910)

During this era, jewelry was designed to match the eloquent standard of women’s fashion. 

Edwardian Era jewelry can be recognized by its intricate filigree and milgrain work. Filigree work gives jewelry a lacey look while milgrain work produces a border of tiny beads.

The extreme attention to detail required by milgrain work makes it the ultimate symbol of affection and commitment. Jewelry made in the Edwardian Era commonly represented femininity via the white color in diamonds, pearls, and white metals like white gold or platinum.

The eloquent, symmetrical designs of this era were popular among the upper class and wealthy elite.

Common materials: Platinum, diamonds, pearls, gold, sapphire, emerald. 

Common techniques: Lace-like filigree work and milgrain borders.

What To Look for: Diamond and pearl tiaras, long pearl rope necklaces, and long glittering earrings, gold knot rings.

THE ART NOVEAU ERA (1890 - 1915)

Although this era overlaps with the Edwardian Era, they are two very different styles. 

The Art Nouveau Era embraced free form and organic designs. This style is very distinct with its sweeping curves, whimsical elements, and enameling. Art Nouveau artists used pique-a-jour enamel which allowed light to shine through its back, giving the pieces a soft, glowing effect.

Commonly used stones of the Art Nouveau Era were citrine, amber, moonstone, amethyst, peridot, opal and freshwater pearls were common. Some artists experimented with unconventional materials such as glass, ivory, and horn.

Jewelry pieces that include insects, plants, flowers, women, and mythical creatures were likely made during this era.

Common materials: Silver, low-grade gold, steel, garnet, citrine, amethyst, pearls, agate, opal, and moonstone. 

Common techniques: Enameling. 

What To Look for: Female form cameos, translucent enamel, fairies, butterflies, dragonflies, flowers, and sweeping curves.

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